Make the Jump, Jesters

Five comedians who should be dramatic actors

by Patton Oswalt | February 23, 2014

photo credit: Kevin James: NBC NewsWire via Getty Images; Amy Poehler: NBC via Getty Images

Comedians and country music singers make excellent dramatic actors. At least, the percentage of them who do is higher than that of any other professional cohort—athletes, artists, and authors, for example—who pass into the electric shadows of Hollywood. Your best bet, if you’re a director looking to do some shock casting, is to look to the comedy clubs or the Grand Ole Opry.

Not counting a few comedians who’ve already made the leap (Jerry Lewis in The King of Comedy, Andrew Dice Clay in Blue Jasmine, Sarah Silverman in Take This Waltz) and a few whom I know are about to take the leap (mum’s the word on those, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised) here are five actors who’ve conquered funny, and need to take a chance on drama.

 

5: Maria Bamford


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It’s a shame Robert Altman’s gone, because it’s his camera, and his way with actresses, which could truly capture the jittery, elusive truth of Bamford’s soul. I’m not skillful enough to imagine or conceive of the movie that would harness the blazing talent that Maria herself can barely control. And I genuinely can’t think of any working directors who could, either. Maybe Nicole Holofcener. Or Ramin Bahrani. Or maybe someone we haven’t seen yet, who’s honing their skills as I write this.

 

4: Kevin James


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Adam Sandler was jumpy, broken-hearted perfection in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love. It didn’t take much tweaking to turn his violent outer shell, hiding the frightened man-child underneath, into a touching coat of armor. Kevin has that same quality, plus physicality. He’s a hurt romantic inside a Sherman tank. How about this: Kathryn Bigelow, piloting that tank through a post-twenty-first-century battlefield. Or go no-budget, and let Kevin rage through whatever Evan Glodell cooks up next. I also can’t believe he hasn’t been tapped to play a supervillain. Batman, Bond, or Spider-Man. He’d conquer in any universe.

 

3: Martin Short


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Yes, he did a dramatic turn on “Damages,” but I want him dead serious and twenty feet tall, with the time and space to breathe and stretch and kick open new doors. He’s got an adorable mean streak, and he’d be a shot of pure nitrous to the already souped-up cinematic engines of someone like Christopher Nolan or Quentin Tarantino. Or a period-specific, small-scale Coen Brothers tragedy.

 

2: Amy Poehler 


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Something gritty. Something early-70s. Boston. Icy grime. Low-stakes larceny, with her psyche as collateral. I don’t think there’s anything Amy can’t do. She’s had dramatic turns on “Parks and Recreation” that a hundred one-hour drama actresses couldn’t dream of pulling off. Now she needs to be commended into the hands of a David O. Russell or Ben Affleck. When she gets a chance to tear it up, the projector will bleed.

 

1: Eric Idle


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I could see any of the Pythons doing something straight-up dramatic, but none more than Idle. Something about his face–those weary, bemused eyes. And no one who writes that many brilliant songs about that many dark subjects isn’t feeling something deep and painful. I’m not even saying he has to act in something sad or heartbreaking. But I’d love to see a heart like his cope with the elemental process of loss that runs like a circuit through any life. Ken Loach? Alexander Payne? Are you reading this?

Patton Oswalt is a stand-up comedian and actor who has worked on such films as Young Adult and Ratatouille.

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